Star rating – 7/10
It’s official – ballet is bad for you, or so you would definitely feel after experiencing the gothic horror of Darren Aronofsky’s latest tale of human suffering for sport/art in ‘Black Swan’. Here the fine art gets the same treatment as he gave to his much lauded treatment of wrestling with Mickey Rourke. This time it is Natalie Portman who gives a stunning display of dedication to her craft as the young woman struggling to make it in the tough world of the ballet company. And the physical pain is only the tip of this particular iceberg – it is really the emotional and mental strain that is the shocker.
It is a truly scary film from start to finish, with the beautiful music of Swan Lake being blasted at the audience in ear shattering volume levels almost throughout. There is no denying that Portman is brilliant in the role of Nina. She reportedly had to practice for five hours every day for 12 months before taking on the role – so that’s some endurance test. True, she obviously does not perform all the ballet moves, stunning as they are, they could only have been done by a professional ballerina, and her head is imposed via CGI trickery in places, although to be honest you can’t see the joins, so well is this film technically put together.
The vulnerable and brittle Nina is subjected to horrific control and abuse, starting with her mother, excellently played by Barbara Hershey, who is living her own failed dancing dreams through her daughter, who she tries to keep in a childlike state by creating a perfect pink princess world of cuddly toys and musical boxes. And then there is the ever fantastic Vincent Cassel as Thomas Leroy the abusive and manipulative ballet director, using the oldest tricks in the book to get his young stars to bend to his will, who puts Nina at centre stage of the new production of Swan Lake as the Swan Queen. And although she has the white swan role off to a tee, it is the darker, more sinister twin role of the black swan that she is struggling with. Her hallucinatory state has devastating consequences as she has to deal with her demons, her rival dancers, her quest for dance perfection, and the gruelling schedule.
But Aronofsky’s dream world is a little too preposterous for my tastes. Yes Black Swan is beautiful to watch, and chilling in its violence. It is a gothic ballet tale with no equal – I guess you really have to like that sort of thing. There is no denying the brilliance of Portman in the central role, but the overall brutality of the ballet world, as portrayed here, and the over the top quality of the storyline, was just too hard to watch to make it an enjoyable night’s relaxation.